Growth hormone deficiency, as the name implies, is the absence or deficiency of growth hormone produced by the pituitary gland to stimulate the body to grow. Growth hormone deficiency may occur during infancy or later in childhood.
Growth hormones are produced by the pituitary gland, which is attached to the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that affects the pituitary gland) located at the base of the brain. Sometimes referred to as the master gland of the endocrine system, the pituitary gland controls the functions of the other endocrine glands through the secretion of certain hormones and also produces human growth hormone. When the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus are malformed or damaged, growth hormone deficiency may result. Damage to the pituitary gland or hypothalamus may occur as a result of abnormal formation of these organs before a child is born (congenital, or present at birth), or as a result of damage that occurred during or after birth (acquired).
Researchers have found that growth hormone deficiency may also be part of a genetic syndrome. However, in some cases, the cause of growth hormone deficiency is unknown (idiopathic).
The primary symptom of growth hormone deficiency is a noticeable slow growth (less than two inches per year), although the body has normal proportions. The child with growth hormone deficiency may also have:
An immature face, meaning he or she looks much younger than his or her peers
A chubby body build
Impaired hair growth
It is important to note that growth hormone deficiency does not affect the child's intelligence, and each child experiences symptoms differently. The symptoms of growth hormone deficiency may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.
Before a growth hormone deficiency diagnosis can be made, your child's doctor may have to rule out other disorders first, including short stature (inherited family shortness) and thyroid hormone deficiency. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for growth hormone deficiency may include the following:
Monitoring the child's growth over a period of time
Scan of the pituitary gland to detect abnormalities
Specific treatment for growth hormone deficiency will be determined by your child's doctor based on:
Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the condition
Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the condition
Your opinion or preference
Once growth hormone deficiency has been diagnosed, treatment for the disorder involves regular injections of human growth hormone (some children receive daily injections, while others receive injections several times a week). Treatment usually lasts several years, although results are often seen as soon as three to four months after the injections are started. The earlier the treatment for growth hormone deficiency is started, the better chance the child will have of attaining normal or near-normal adult height. However, not all children respond well to growth hormone treatment.